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Top 10 Adventure Filmmaking Mistakes

Alastair Humphreys turns latest film into a learning experience

Alastair Humphreys

These days, the HD sports camera is an essential piece of adventure gear, packed along for every river trip, powder day and epic climb at the local crag. Yes, thanks to high-quality, dirt-cheap cameras like GoPro and Contour, everyone is a filmmaker. The resulting raft of YouTube and Vimeo action porn clips highlight both the astounding quality of footage these cameras can produce, and the fact that high-def video alone doesn't necessarily make for a great film. Storytelling chops are important, too, and the best way to develop them is practice and learning from your mistakes.

Lucky for budding adventure flimmakers, serial adventurer Alastair Humphreys has been making short films of his trips for some time, and he's humble enough to offer up his Greenland Expedition—a 10-minute film shot while training for an 1,800-mile walk across Antarctica in the ill-fated steps of Robert Falcon Scott—as an example of common filmmaking mistakes. From reading through Humphreys' list, it seems the three biggest factors in successful storytelling on film are planning (knowing what story you want to tell ahead of time, and capturing the appropriate footage), tenaciously filming even the worst times and highlighting the human story at the center of every adventure.

Here's a preview of some Alastair Humphreys' top 10 adventure filmmaking mistakes:

Here are some of the things I did wrong out on the ice in Greenland. I’m listing them here so you don’t make the same mistakes with your films.

DETAILS—I did not film enough close-up details of things, such as equipment or ice formations. I therefore have to rely too much on quite repetitive long shots. (Good example of a detail shot here)

FACES—It’s all very well having pretty shots of big mountains, but the best part of films is the people. I wish I had filmed more close ups of our faces, particularly when we were tired and cold. (Good example of a face shot here)

EMPATHY—The best parts of expedition films are when the viewer can relate to the human side of the people out on the ice. I should have done more interviews, more pieces to camera, and given the camera to the other guys more often to record their own thoughts. (Good example of empathising with a charater in the ten seconds from here)

STORY—I went off to Greenland, had a brilliant time, came home, uploaded all my footage, and then thought to myself “what’s the story here?” I then had to cobble together a story from the footage and audio that I had, working around all the limitations from the mistakes outlined in this post. A better way of doing it would have been to have thought of the story I wanted to tell before I even began shooting.

FILM THE HARD TIMES—From the impression given by my film, Greenland looks like a lovely place for a sunshine break. I’m kicking myself for being weak and lazy and not getting my camera out when things were grim. The time to film things is when your face mask is crusty with ice, your hands are freezing cold, the wind is screaming, you are hungry, and everyone is in such a foul mood that if you start filming them they might thump you. That is what you need to record. This is what I should have been filming. Not this.

HONESTY—The stiff upper-lip, it-wasn’t-so-bad-really attitude is very British. Unfortunately it makes for very dull viewing. Honesty is far more raw and interesting. Next time I need to document far more tears and whinging and self-doubt! (Good example here).

These are great, honestly told, points. Check out the full 10-minute clip, which, for our money, turned out pretty well given the harsh weather conditions and his amateur filmmaker status. For the rest of the top mistakes, click through to Alastair's list.

Via Alastair Humphreys.

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